President Obama announced yesterday the commutation of sentences for 61 prisoners, including two Ballard Spahr pro bono clients who applied for sentencing relief through Clemency Project 2014. 

Kevin County, a client from Louisiana, is a low-level, nonviolent offender serving a 20-year term for conspiracy to distribute drugs. After spending more than 13 years in prison, he applied for clemency. A team of Ballard Spahr lawyers took his case in November 2015 and filed a petition for clemency on March 11, 2016.

"The grant of clemency today allows Kevin to return to his family years before he otherwise would. Without it, he would not be released from prison until 2020," said Ballard Spahr partner Marjorie J. Peerce, who oversees the firm’s involvement and is a member of the Clemency Project steering committee. "His sentence was too long already, but the grant of clemency at least lessens the length of that harsh result."

Angela LaPlatney, a client incarcerated in California, also was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for low-level, drug-related crimes. She served nearly 12 years before petitioning for clemency. Blake K. Wade, Managing Partner of the firm’s Salt Lake City office, accepted her case in March 2015, and filed her petition for clemency last November. 

"Angela’s sentence was excessively severe in comparison to many higher level criminals who received lesser sentences through plea agreements," said Mr. Wade. "Working with clients like Angela through the Clemency Project is humbling and very rewarding. By having their sentences reduced, these individuals are given the opportunity to move on with their lives and once again contribute to their families and communities."

Clemency Project 2014 addresses nonviolent inmates serving disproportionately harsh prison terms after being sentenced under the mandatory sentencing laws of the late 20th century. More than 100 Ballard Spahr lawyers from across all practice areas have volunteered to represent long-term federal prisoners petitioning for clemency. More than 4,000 attorneys across the country have volunteered to screen the applications of about 35,000 inmates and prepare clemency petitions. Erica A. Leatham and Joanna Jiang, lawyers in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, represent Mr. County. Mr. Wade and Melanie R. Clark, also in the Salt Lake City office, represent Ms. LaPlatney. Ms. Peerce, a white collar criminal defense lawyer in the New York office, guided their efforts and helped prepare submissions.

"We are gratified that the president granted clemency to two of our clients. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of additional deserving candidates across the country," said Ms. Peerce. "We hope to see many more commutations as the president works to offer relief to men and women serving unduly harsh sentences –– ones that are much longer than they would be under today's policies."